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Wednesday, 24 January 2018

A new ferry terminal at Rhodes East?

Artists impression of the redevelopment at Rhodes East
Plans for a redevelopment of Rhodes East, including a new ferry wharf, have been released by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment. It's a 36 hectare, triangular shaped area between the Epping train line on the western edge and Concord Road to the east. The Parramatta River forms its northern boundary.

Rhodes East redevelopment plan map (source NSW Department of Environment and Planning)
The plan is for high density living, with 3,600 dwellings and a population of 8,225 residents. That's 22,900 people per square km, which is more than Pyrmont, currently Australia's densest suburb. It obviously needs public transport, but Rhodes station on the Epping train line is bit of a hike from the northern end of the development - about 900 metres - and there appear to be no plans to add another station further up the line. 

Some of the transport needs are proposed to be met by adding a wharf to the Parramatta River ferry route at Rhodes East.

Likely lines of approach of vessels to Rhodes East Wharf
The new stop replaces an earlier proposal to locate the wharf just west of the railway bridge at Mill Park.  I am not a fan of the Mill Park site, as a previous post explains. The line of approach for vessels travelling between Meadowbank and Mill Park is awkward; it is at the"quiet" end of Rhodes and the long ramp required to reach the navigation channel would create a significant barrier for rowers.

Rhodes East is a much better option. The line of approach for ferries to Meadowbank is more favourable and the population density planned for the area adjacent to the wharf will be significant, including retail development. There may still be an issue for rowers as the river depth is shallow close to the shore, but perhaps the ramp will not need to be quite as long as the Mill Park proposal. As it is a good distance from bridges, visibility will be better. 

Taking into account the rapid expansion of Rhodes and the nearby Sydney Olympic Park/ Wentworth Point precincts, and the NSW Government's plans for light rail projects, it is timely to reconsider the overall design of the Parramatta River ferry route.

The corridor from Wentworth Point (1) to Parramatta has never been a happy one for ferries. The river narrows west of Rydalmere and options for ferries to pass each other are limited. This makes a high frequency service impossible. On top of this, a bus replacement service is required at very low tides. 

The journey time by RiverCat from Wentworth Point to Parramatta is 30 minutes which is hardly acceptable for a distance of only 6.5 km as the crow flies. 

Last October, the NSW Government announced its preferred route for the Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2. It starts at Sydney Olympic Park, heads north to Wentworth Point, crosses the River and connects the growing suburbs of Ermington and Melrose Park before linking in with the Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 line.
Proposed route of Stage 1 and Stage 2 Parramatta Light Rail (source: Transport for NSW)
As the proposed Light Rail stop at Wentworth Point is less than 200 metres from the ferry wharf, it makes eminent sense to terminate the Parramatta River ferry line at Wentworth Point. Passengers could conveniently transfer between the light rail and ferry services.

This would make a big saving in ferry operating costs, without diminishing mobility. The round trip from Wentworth Point to Parramatta is one hour by ferry. Eliminating this cycle would make a significant saving in resources, more efficiently utilised on improving the more economically sustainable service between Wentworth Point and Sydney CBD. 

So yes, a new wharf at Rhodes East is a good idea, but let's re-consider the design of the River ferry network in the context of other public transport plans for the area. There is little value, and significant cost, in having two modes operate the same corridor between Wentworth Point and Parramatta. In this case, a high frequency light rail service is a far better option than the RiverCat.

(1) The wharf at Wentworth Point is officially called "Sydney Olympic Park", a geographic misnomer which probably stems from excessive enthusiasm surrounding Sydney 2000.


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